UNCOVERED: Attic treasures shine once more in “Anne Reid: 50 Years”

The handsome clapboard house on Westcott Road in Princeton is warm and welcoming, filled with an impressive variety of original artwork by three generations of the Reid family. However, it was the art not on display that caused the most excitement last spring. Over 200 works by Anne Reid ’72 were rediscovered by Anne’s brother, Archie Reid PCD ’65, and his wife, Karen, carefully tucked away in a third-floor bedroom. The find became the catalyst for a unique exhibit that celebrated Anne’s artistry in the gallery named in her memory.

Archie, who now owns the home where he and his siblings grew up, was amazed at the extent of the work and its excellent condition.

“Much of her art is hung around the house, but I haven’t looked through these portfolios in some time,” he said quietly, leafing through the pages. “She really was an amazing artist.”

Anne, known not only for her art but also for her exceptional athleticism, ebullient personality and generosity of spirit, passed away in a motor vehicle accident just three years after graduating from PDS.

“I always envisioned featuring Anne’s work,” said Gwen Shockey ’06, visual arts teacher and director of the Anne Reid ’72 Gallery. “It was a treat to be invited into the Reid home and discover Anne’s wide array of talents. Archie and Karen were wonderfully helpful. They pulled out portfolio after portfolio — it felt like Christmas.”

Shockey took the newfound treasures back to PDS and enlisted students to help comb through the collection and mount the show.

“Hearing the students’ reactions to Anne’s work was thrilling. They are so used to her name being associated with the gallery, but this allowed us all to feel connected to her in a new way,” she said. “Anne’s figure drawings were just exquisite and you can tell through her sketch book that she had a sense of humor. It was a privilege and a very intimate process.”

Sumaiyya Malik ’24, a photography student and co-head of the Gallery Club, offered to help Shockey select which pieces to exhibit, a lengthy and time-consuming process.

“Anne’s art was all really beautiful, and it was hard trying to filter it,” said Malik. “We decided on about 60 pieces we thought were unique and showed off her style and personality. I really enjoy art curation so this experience was really cool, especially since Anne was an alumna. I felt we had a special connection. We also found her writing, poetry and journals. It was nice to see a student from 50 years ago who, like myself, was passionate about visual arts and writing, being honored this way.”

On May 11, 2022, Anne’s carefully preserved work re-emerged in a retrospective aptly titled “Anne Reid: 50 Years.” The opening reception coincided with her classmates’ 50th reunion and was a fitting way to kick off their Alumni Weekend celebrations.

“The exhibition was perfect,” Archie said. “Gwen and the students did exceptional work, and it’s great they had a chance to try their hand at curation.”

“It was beautiful, the way she and her students set it up and mounted it,” Karen agreed.

The Reids are particularly pleased that some of the pieces that had languished in the attic are now enlivening the apartment of their son, John.

A FOUNDATION FOR GROWTH

It was rare for a school to have an art gallery in the 1960s. But, thanks to the vision, determination and skills of Arlene Smith, head of the art department for over 30 years, PDS was lucky to be among the first. Smith, who joined the Miss Fine’s School faculty in 1960 and continued at PDS until her retirement in 1997, saw the gallery’s value as a teaching tool. She lobbied to transform a passageway between the gym and theater into an exhibition space that hosted several shows a year. Smith also requisitioned a nearby broom closet and converted it into the school’s first photography lab. Anne, and thousands of other students, many of whom went on to professional careers in the arts, were products of her vision.

“Arlene lit up my imagination at just the right time,” said Phoebe Knapp ’67, a sculptor whose work is exhibited in museums, outdoor venues and private homes across the country. “She always challenged me to do better, to do more and become something. She was off- hand and casual in her comments but there was a core of seriousness and dedication which impressed me deeply. I loved her veiled impatience and her sense of complicity in something unnamed and big.”

Smith, now 97 and living on Long Island, remembers her time working with the students fondly.

“I made a point to teach to the individual. They all had some talent or other,” she said. “The kids felt they had a special spot in the art room, and that was important in my view. I expected excellence. The kids knew it, they felt it and they produced it.”

Always chic under the distinctive white lab coat she wore instead of a smock, Smith insisted on originality.

“She was always raising the bar and supporting us in thinking about how to get to a vision that we had. It was really powerful to be a young person and have someone help project your vision into reality. If I imagined an 8-by-10-foot canvas, she’d take me out after school to buy the stretchers,” said Gala Westheimer Narezo ’84, who fashioned a career that blends art with mindfulness and social awareness. “Arlene always treated us like we could do it. She never talked down to us, but would comment and make suggestions in a direct yet respectful way.”

“I had an art teacher in eighth grade who praised my work and it gave me such confidence,” Smith recalled. “I consciously tried to instill that same confidence in my own students.”

“After coming to PDS in seventh grade, I found Arlene was as excited as I was to make things,” marveled John Battle ’71, master blacksmith and metal sculptor who has exhibited in Boston and New York. Seeing his eagerness to work in metal, Smith agreed to dedicate a corner of the art room for welding. “It was a powerful vote of confidence in a young middle schooler and an invaluable lesson in making things happen. She provided a fireproof curtain, had a commercial fan put in the wall, purchased a welding table, hoses, welding nozzles, helmets, gloves and rented oxy-acetylene tanks. It was thrilling!”

Smith’s widespread impact was evident at a 1984 exhibition of alumni work from across the country that included furniture, fashion sketches, photographs, paintings, sculptures, silk screen designs, architectural renderings, cartoons, designs for book covers and even prototypes of the spaceships and aliens seen in the first “Star Wars’’ film. Closer to home, Jody Erdman ’72, a friend of Anne’s and a student of Smith’s, followed in her mentor’s footsteps when she served as gallery director for 20 years before passing her stewardship to Shockey.

NEW USES, ORIGINAL PURPOSE

In 2007, the gallery moved to a new location, directly opposite the school’s main entrance and adjacent to the expansive Matthews Arts Wing. After closing for two years during the pandemic, its reopening last fall was greeted with extraordinary enthusiasm.

“The idea of extending its use as a performance space came from the students,” Shockey said. “We had an open mic night and it was so fun. The gallery was packed. We had students out in the hallway trying to watch and we read poems and had musical performances. There was such energy. Now, even kids who aren’t particularly interested in art are showing up, and I’m thrilled.”

“It’s a safe space where we feel comfortable and anyone can go there at any time,” Malik added.

Smith’s contributions are still in evidence and serve as a vivid example of the way PDS encourages and supports master teachers, enabling them to fulfill their dreams. In turn, faculty model the vision, resourcefulness and confidence that emboldens their students to take risks, accept challenges and explore new directions.

And that is an outcome that Anne, with her curiosity and sense of adventure, would applaud.

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